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Shikoku Electric appeals injunction against restarting Ikata reactor

This file photo dated March 28, 2017 shows the No. 3 reactor, center left, of Shikoku Electric Power Co.'s Ikata nuclear power plant in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture. (Mainichi)

HIROSHIMA (Kyodo) -- Shikoku Electric Power Co. on Wednesday appealed a court injunction preventing the restart of a reactor at the Ikata nuclear power plant, in western Japan.

On Jan. 17, the Hiroshima High Court ordered the utility to suspend the No. 3 reactor at the plant in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture, as sought by local residents, ruling the company's studies on the risks posed by earthquakes and an eruption of Mt. Aso, about 130 kilometers away, were inadequate.

The legal battle is playing out amid the government's push to restart reactors that were halted following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, to meet the energy needs of the resource-poor country.

The unit at the Ikata plant restarted in 2016 after clearing stricter regulations imposed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority after the Fukushima disaster. It has been offline for regular maintenance since Dec. 26, with Shikoku Electric initially planning to resume commercial operations on April 27.

But the high court put a wrench in the plan when it said the utility had not properly accounted for the possibility of a nearby fault causing an earthquake, or pyroclastic flows resulting from the eruption of Mt. Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture reaching the Ikata plant.

As such, the nuclear watchdog was wrong to clear the No. 3 unit to restart, and the reactor must remain idled until a ruling by the Iwakuni branch of the Yamaguchi District Court is given in a similar suit, Presiding Judge Kazutake Mori said in ordering the injunction.

Shikoku Electric had said after the high court ruling it would appeal the decision, but the filing was delayed by problems at the Ikata plant, including a sudden blackout that caused a temporary failure of its cooling system.

A different judge at the high court is now expected to review the appeal that was filed Wednesday.

A previous order forcing a halt to operations at the Ikata No. 3 unit was issued by the Hiroshima court in December 2017, citing the risk of Mt. Aso erupting. But the same high court overturned this on appeal in September 2018, and the utility restarted the reactor a month later.

The government hopes to have nuclear power cover 20 to 22 percent of Japan's energy needs by fiscal 2030, as it looks to cut its dependency on carbon-emitting fossil fuel such as oil and coal.

But public sentiment against restarting reactors across Japan remains strong following the triple disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

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